The Chooser and the Chosen

Is it just me, or does this ever happen to you? You get home at the end of a long work day and your fridge and cupboard are empty – or at least bare of any attractive meal options. You are too tired to cook, or the weather is too hot. Whatever the reason, you’ve made a decision: dinner will be prepared elsewhere. You have a stack of take-out menus at your finger tips, and there are several tried-and-true restaurants a short distance from your home.  Whew!  Abundant solutions, right? Yet, somehow it doesn’t feel that way. Now you have to choose which option will be the best one to fill your now growling stomach. And the clock is ticking. Making a choice from all of these options feels overwhelming and you throw up your hands. The microwave popcorn and canned tuna are looking more appealing than they did just a few moments ago. Maybe with a little salsa….
This very moment, those of us who are fortunate enough to live in a highly industrialized democratic society have an abundant number of choices.  Almost certainly, this is the most choice human beings have ever had. Not only can we choose what we will eat, but we can also choose where we live, how we earn a living, and what color phone we want to carry in our pocket. The aspects of our lives that are either chosen by us outright or influenced by the choices we make comprise a very large part of who we are.
Lest I start sounding like Ayn Rand, or overtly libertarian, I have an important – and obvious – clarification to make. Not everyone in this highly industrialized democratic society is blessed with an abundant number of choices. Poverty can be a significant a barrier to self-determination, for example. Our culture is still debating whether a woman can choose the state and condition of her body. And not everyone in this country and this state has the opportunity to choose to marry the person they love.
Despite these and other significant constraints, each of us has more autonomy and discretion than we may realize. There are so many choices to make that we can’t possibly maintain awareness of all of them. We quit noticing. Many of these choices are made outside of our consciousness. This is part of the human condition: we can only attend to so much information at a time. However, this lack of awareness of our choices, the opportunities we have every day to say “yes” and “no,” keeps us from being fully engaged with our lives and with each other.
One Choice, Many Impacts
Our choices are a gift that we possess and that we give. It is a waste of our existence to be unaware of the choices that we make and the potential they have to help or hurt our world.
Since I started this off with dinner-time angst, let’s look again at food as an example. What we choose to put on our plate obviously impacts us as individuals: our waistlines, our cholesterol levels, and perhaps our religious identity. Yet we can also choose who will benefit economically from what we eat. Which of our food dollars are retained in the local economy by farmers and locally owned markets, and which will be given to mega-agribusinesses? If the strawberry we are enjoying in February arrives in our supermarket via airplane, what is the climactic effect of the exhaust emitted in transport? How does the consumption of airplane fuel to ship warm-weather fruits to cold places impact the environment and people living on the Gulf of Mexico?
Choosing People
Every day, we have an opportunity to wake up and consider how our choices impact not only ourselves, but the people in our lives, people we do not know, and the creation that all of us share. We also have the ability to make a conscious choice of who we are. Our identity is not simply an accident of birth or the way we were raised. How we accept and affirm our identity matters. Who we are – whoever we are – is a gift that is much too precious to waste on a sleepwalk through life.
The Jewish people are a choosing people and a chosen people every day. Regardless of how we may feel about the theological arguments surrounding choseness, choice is inherently Jewish.  It is a part of our story and our path forward. Choosing Jewishness is not limited to those who convert to Judaism. Yes, the aphorism “We are all Jews by choice,” really does apply. The decision to claim a place in the Jewish community, to perpetuate our shared ethical heritage, to create Jewish families of all forms, and to engage in the work of tikkun olam is deeply mutual.
We are chosen by every other person who chooses to live Jewishly. May this choice and our choosing be a blessing for the world.
Photo: Kathryn Harper